Notes of the Pyrenees

Ernesto Hontoria

In this recent trip to Spain, I discovered a completely different face of the country: the wild and rural; the part of the country that I imagine has largely defined the character of its people. Finally, I went to the Pyrenees, fulfilling with this trip a childhood dream that I have secretly kept all this time. And I did it - better said we did it! - in the best possible way: accompanied by the best team of hikers I have ever met: my wife and my children, and by a passionate mountain guide who did his best to transmit us the history of the mountain, and his knowledge of the flora and fauna of the Pyrenees. We walked (is there a better way?) an interesting stretch of the Pyrenees, winning with each step the right to enjoy its amazing landscapes.

But ... where did that longing for walking the Pyrenees come from, why not just does the Route of Santiago instead? In my case, the choice for that mountain has to do with my past. Since I was a kid, I liked hiking mountains and enjoyed the peace I found there; not for nothing I am a ‘gocho’ (which is how Venezuelans normally call the people who born in the Andes). But to make a long story short, I am going to tell you what links me to this Spanish mountain range.

My first reference of those mountains came to me from my father. He did military service in the Pyrenees and had great pride in his double feat: to perform military service - even when a birth condition exempted him from doing so - and his adventure in the mountains.
Borda de Noarre

My father came into the world with his feet first, which in labor, where the baby's head is expected to go first, was considered a complication. It really was! As a result, he suffered a fracture of his right shoulder and the mobility of his arm was reduced for life. Because of that situation he was not obliged to perform military service, but as he was stubborn and proud, he insisted on doing it, and finally did it, being assigned to a position in the Pyrenees.

In my opinion my father was the antithesis of a hiker. He was an intellectual, very far from an explorer. I suspect that in the absence of greater adventures, he made his days in the Pyrenees one of his favorite stories; …or maybe it was that my love for mountains had unconsciously filtered out from my memory other better adventures. The fact is that I remember very clearly, the several times, and different occasions, when he told us about the time he had to move the troops from one place to another on the mountain. They were walking through the snow, on the edge of steep cliffs. The issue was that when they finally arrived at their destination, the troop he commanded had more men than when they left. Some soldiers, who had started the journey on trucks, got frightened by the slopes and curves of the snowy mountain, and decided to desert the trucks and to continue the way on foot.
Close to Peak Certasccan

My other references of the Pyrenees come from my mother’s side. My mother's father, my grandfather Rafael, was one of the many militiamen who left Spain in January 1939, in the disbanding of the republican troops. Years later, with the border of France closed, it was the turn of my grandmother who went out at night, along some clandestine path in the Pyrenees, following the steps of a mountain guide, and carrying, probably in her arms, the youngest of my aunts. My mother and her older sister stayed for a while longer in Barcelona, ​​but finally they also crossed the mountain to reunite with my grandmother in France before embarking on her trip to Venezuela, where my story began.

So, I came to a mountain with which I had affectionate ties macerated for many years. On top of that, once there, we were submerged in a small world; in a subculture of mountaineering, and more precisely of ‘Catalan mountaineering’, in which everyone speaks a language different from yours, but not so different that you cannot understand it, but enough that you cannot speak it; and yet when you ask them something in Spanish, they respond to you in that language with perfection and cordiality, making you feel that you are, and you are not, in Spain at the same time; the result could not be anything other than a very special trip.

The tour exceeded all my expectations. On the one hand, it was much harder than I had imagined, on the other much more rewarding. The hardness of the excursion was entirely due to the length of the walks. If it were in my power to choose the route again, I would do it in shorter sections, to have more time for enjoying the landscapes, and maybe to dive in the lakes. There is a possible inconvenience at this point: I understand that the route has been designed to spend the nights at the mountain shelters due to the limitations of doing so in tents. The part of the Pyrenees we walked through has been designated as a Natural Park, and has restrictions for camping.

But, although the experience was hard, each step we took was compensated by the beauty of the scenery we saw. If you ask me if it was worth the effort, I will answer without hesitation, every second! Even in the rain and the hail, when our guide produced an unexpected umbrella out of his backpack, while I was realizing that my waterproof jacket was not as waterproof as I thought, I enjoyed the tour, and thanked Zeus for not having sent us a thunderbolt. My expectations were also surpassed by the professionalism shown by the umbrella magician - and our guide - Sergi Ricart from Pyrenees Trails.

Sergi, not only proved to know his trade well, but to enjoy what he does. He told us stories of the Pyrenees, of the huts, of the mountain passages that served as routes for exile, saving lives of Spaniards fleeing Spain, and also the lives of Jews who entered it escaping from the Nazis. He also taught us about the Pyrenean flora and fauna: carline thistle, firs, birches, chestnuts trees and black pines; of the bearded vultures, vultures, eagles, donkeys, cows, frogs and chamois (mountain goats). But the most praiseworthy thing is that he was concerned with zeal to make our trip safer. I confess here that I was tempted to discuss with him the relevance of some measures, but I thought it better because of the precious load that was at stake.
Pica de Estats
Finally, the dinners in all the refuges exceeded expectations, as did most of the breakfasts and lunches they gave us. Maybe, I would delete some of the snoring and smells we heard and felt in them, but how to do it without eliminating my own night sounds and odors.


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